In the movies, when someone finds out if they have cancer, it’s pretty quick. Someone is sitting in a doctor’s office. Everyone is solemn. The doctor looks at the chart, sighs heavily, and says something poignant like, “Well, it’s cancer.” Or, “It’s malignant.” Or, “I’m so sorry.”
In reality, there’s a lot more waiting involved. And it’s the waiting that is, to quote Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “the hardest part.”
For three months, I’ve been waiting. Waiting for doctor appointments. Waiting for biopsy results. Waiting for news, good or bad. It’s a foreign concept in this age of instant gratification. I even posted this on twitter:
because Dante seriously missed this one. This waiting placed me squarely on one of the forgotten lower circles of hell.
In oncology offices, surgical offices, hospital rooms, the waiting exploded with unanswered questions that I couldn’t turn off. The intellectual side of my brain reminded me that most of the time, these things work out well. That 85% of all biopsies are benign. That everything is fine. But the emotional, irrational part of my brain reminded me that this could be it. The news could be bad. My life is going to change dramatically.
There is no choice but to wait, and that battle played out each day like some kind of psychological smack-down.
“It’s nothing!” vs. “It’s the end.”
“I’m fine.” vs. “I’m dying.”
No one ever wins, though. Some days it’s gloom and doom. Some days it’s rainbows and lollipops. But the worst case scenario seems to have more points at the end of the day because maybe we are hard-wired that way. We assume the worst in a self-preservation effort. It gives us a false sense of preparedness for whatever will come.
Waiting threw me into a black hole of uncertainty. I was Sandra Bullock spiraling out of control and nothing could set me back on course. So I did things to give myself some sense of control. I searched YouTube for videos entitled “Journey of a Biopsy Slide” or “What happens while you’re waiting?” I called my doctor and pissed off the receptionist with my daily “are those results in yet?’ question. I stayed up all night, staring at the ceiling.
None of it did anything to stop the constant psychodrama going through my head. I thought I was losing my mind.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone. If you want to know how bad waiting can get, someone with Stage IV cancer told me that waiting for her results was worse than finding out the results.
I found that hard to believe, but I suppose there is a sense of control with a diagnosis. There’s a plan. A protocol. The black hole ends and this time you’re in a wormhole traveling on towards some other course. Even though the destination might be grim, its better than flying blind.
Right now, I’m flying blind again. Waiting on a plan for the rest of the year. But unlike the last few times, I’m not eager to get this news. I’m accepting the uncertainty, embracing the waiting like an old friend. After all, I’ve been here a few times already.
True, I looked up all the worst-case scenarios. I researched all the drugs. All the side-effects. I’m still waiting for the call from the doctor, but I haven’t harassed his receptionist yet.
Because at least now I’m not hurtling aimlessly through the black hole of the waiting room in hell. Now, regardless of what they say, I know where this leads to and I’m aiming straight for it.
It leads towards life.
And as long as I know that’s the trajectory, the waiting just ain’t so bad.
It leads towards life.